This is one of the best articles I've ever seen on just c  Makes it clear
why we're so excited about the possibilities. - diane sollee

Richmond Times-Dispatch
Bill Lohmann
October 24, 2000

The young couple wasn't talking. Their household was in a state of turmoil
because of stressful living arrangements that weren't entirely their fault.
But they turned their anger and frustration toward each other.

Then, in the heat of an argument, the woman slapped her husband. It was out
of the blue and out of character, but it was a turning point in a
relationship that was spiraling downward.

The wife knew she and her husband needed help. Divorce wasn't an option for
her, but it was becoming one for her husband.

"I don't believe in divorce," the husband said, "but it seemed like we ought
to get a divorce."

At the edge of the abyss, this couple sought guidance from their church and
from an older couple who have ridden marriage's bumpy road. It is not an
unusual route to take, but one that is being increasingly promoted as a way
to keep troubled couples together.

Marriage Builders Alliance of Richmond is a relatively new organization made
up of clergy and community leaders cooperating across denominational lines
with the goal of strengthening marriage - before and after the wedding.
Couple-to-couple mentoring has proved to be an effective method, said Bob
Ruthazer, the alliance's executive director.

The group's motivation is obvious: Statistics projecting that between 40
percent and 50 percent of marriages starting today will end in divorce or
permanent separation.

"We believe the church needs to be part of the solution," Ruthazer said.
"We've done well at introducing the clergy to the concept of premarital
mentoring to augment or replace most of their pastoral counseling.

"What we haven't done is create any good, effective models for helping
couples in crisis. This is the area that is in many ways of most concern. In
place of the prevention we didn't do well before, it's the pound of
correction we have to do now."

On Thursday, the alliance is holding a forum for local clergy aimed at
identifying congregational strategies to help couples in crisis. The
speakers will be a recently retired Episcopal priest from Florida, the Rev.
Dick McGinnis, and his wife, Phyllis, who have created a couple-to-couple,
church-based ministry that has proved successful.

It was such a program that, so far, has saved the couple I introduced at the
beginning of the column.

As we sat around the kitchen table of their suburban home, I listened as
they recounted the unraveling of their marriage. I promised I would not
identify them - figuring their story was more important than their names -
and I won't.

But I will say their story struck me as unusually commonplace: a couple with
minimal communication skills, perhaps not properly prepared for marriage,
thrust into a stressful situation that very nearly tore them apart.

Hurt feelings were buried and so, almost, was their marriage.

They had been forced to move several times in a short period of time because
of events beyond their control. They lived for a while with relatives and
friends, and some days didn't know where they would be sleeping the next.
They have two young children, and that was no way to raise a family.

He worked, she was a stay-at-home mom. They are a devout couple, which
proves that it takes more than simply being a true believer.

Pressure built, questions went unanswered, their future remained uncertain.
He began avoiding her. They ate meals separately. Finally, things
accelerated to the slapping incident.

"It shocked us both," she said.

Forgiveness was asked and granted, but the wounds were deep. They made
arrangements to meet with an older couple who have been through their own
hard times and have become mentors for young couples. The woman went with a
desperate hope to save her marriage; the man went out of obligation and with
no expectations.

Quickly, he gained some.

His mentor told him, "I know you've made a choice to forgive her, but now
you've got to decide if you're going to work on the marriage."

They each took an "inventory" - a lengthy questionnaire - that revealed
communication to be their major shortcoming. During several sessions, the
mentor couple taught the younger couple methods of communicating and
listening. One involved a refrigerator magnet that was labeled "the floor."
When one had "the floor," the other could not interrupt, then had to repeat
and prove there was an understanding of what had been said.

It was pretty basic, almost silly stuff. But very effective, the couple told

They had known each other for four years before getting married, but
discovered they had not really known each other. They brought different
temperaments to their marriage and came from families who communicated in
vastly different ways and, looking back, were operating on different

They learned, they said, "listening to understand, not listening to win."

Their lives are far more settled now. They have moved into a house, which
eliminated much of the tension. They have prioritized their life and
responsibilities. They have made more time for each other. Better
communication has done the rest.

Now, they talk, they listen, they try to understand.

However, they are not perfect.

"We still have bad days," the husband said.

"But, oh my gosh, nothing like before," the wife added.

They spoke of their strife as if it were ancient history. In truth, it was
only a few months ago when the situation reached its nadir. They are
optimistic they can make their marriage work; they are realistic enough to
know it will take effort.

"There is no magic potion," the husband said. "It's a path of discovery."

Copyright Richmond Times-Dispatch

Contact Bill Lohmann at (804) 649-6639 or

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